Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Life in Dressmaking: a story for Valentine's Day

Despite all my talk about having too much inspiration spinning round my head, I had a moment of lunchtime eebaay insanity last week and pounced upon a mystery bundle of sewing patterns in their last few seconds.  The photo was indistinct, the description unpromising, but I just had a good feeling about this lot.  And boy, oh boy, has that instinct paid off!
Yesterday I took delivery of a cardboard box containing 30 paper patterns, predominantly from the late 1960's / early 1970's.  Some are still in their factory folds, while others have clearly been cut and then carefully refolded in their envelopes.  Call me an old romantic, but I have pieced together their previous owner's life story.

Janet was married in 1965 and sewed her own wedding dress. Not an inch of bare flesh was on display that day:  she was keeping all her secrets for her husband.  They honeymooned in Southend.  She made all the dresses for her trousseau and was so proud as they strode arm-in-arm along the pier!

Before her marriage, she had a little office job and liked to keep up with the latest fashions.  She met her husband-to-be at the tennis court in the local park.  He was such a tease!  What a lovely young man!
After the wedding, she returned to work for a short while, but was soon pregnant with the first of her two children,  both girls, born two years apart.  She quickly settled down to married life, and rather enjoyed motherhood.  She put on a little weight after having the children and was pleased when looser styles came into fashion in the early 70's.

It was a fine life.  Her husband was making good money at the factory and they managed to go abroad once a year on holiday:  somewhere nice and sunny like Spain.  She liked to have a new dress or two in her suitcase every summer.  Once, she even made Himself a jacket for his holidays - oh he did look smart!  It was lovely to have a family to sew for.
And then... well, the girls were getting older and didn't want to wear home-made clothes anymore.  When she took them shopping in C&A's, she could afford to pick out something new for herself too, and gradually she stopped looking at the pattern catalogues, because, well the styles were all a bit young-looking for her, now she was in her 30's... and maybe she should just put the sewing machine away in the attic.

And the years passed.

Then one day, her elder daughter said "You used to sew, didn't you Mum?  I was just saying to our Tracey, remember those matching dresses we used to have?  One red and one blue? I just can't imagine our kids wanting to look the same!  But we were so pleased with our Sunday Best frocks, with our hair in ribbons and you in your suit... you made that yourself too didn't you?"


And Janet thought:  "You know, so I did!  I used to make all my own clothes and I was always the  smartest girl in the office.  I might just look and see if that old sewing machine still works.  I could run up a couple of outfits for our anniversary cruise and save myself a fortune!  Yes, I might just do that!"

And she did.

Then Tracey asked if she could make her some cushions for the new house?
And Sharon wondered if she could maybe help with costumes for the school nativity play?
So she did.
But her grandchildren burst into tears and refused to wear the outfits she had slaved over all weekend.

And then she said "Never again!  It's time you girls learned to sew for your own selves!  I'm too old for this!"  And she gave her sewing machine to the church car boot sale. 

After Janet was left a widow, she decided it was time to move out of the city and move to a little bungalow in Southend. She left it to her daughters to clear out the old house - too many memories.

They found a cardboard box in the garage...

24 comments:

Kat said...

What a beautiful story, it's made me well up a little! How fantastic that this wonderful collection has found a new home :)

didyoumakethat said...

Yeah, you've made me get a bit teary, too - you master storyteller, you. Stop - it's too emotional! (I loved the Southend and C&A details.)

Anonymous said...

What a nice story! It's realy emotional (i got also a little teary...)

greetings and happy knitting& sewing
MrsHare (from rav)

Annie said...

Brilliant :D Thanks for the grin I'm now wearing Roo x

Elisalex said...

Good to know I'm not the only one to have shed a tear or two at the end...! A lovely story, kind of makes one think about how we'll look back on our own lives... Happy Valentine's! x

Marie said...

What a brilliantly told story...love it! I think you've managed to capture similar feelings and an imagination that I always have when handling my vintage patterns.

Rachel in Edinburgh said...

Love the story! Such a great idea you had. So which patterns do you have your eye on?

Anonymous said...

What a lovely story! thanks for sharing!

Scruffybadger said...

Genius! How I enjoyed this life through the sewing lens ! But not to ignore the gems you have acquired - lovely!
By the way, being the past recipient of your fancy dress whims, I could also find a use for the animal costumes (once you have made them of course!)

Joanne said...

Ooh that was wonderful - you are clever. Such a lovely way to approach vintage patterns :)

Lizzi said...

Sharon and Tracy? :-)

Gail said...

Fantastic story! Thanks for sharing your windfall with us!

Sigrid said...

What historical genius, it's hard not to wonder where these sewing treasures come from isn't it?

Donna said...

Ha ha! It is so fascinating to think about the lives of people who previously owned our furniture or our china (or sewing patterns). Now you get to add to the life story of the patterns. :)

Joan said...

I enjoy all your posts, but especially this one... Thank you!

Kestrel said...

I loved that!

Also, I have made the dress from the Woman Pattern designed by Teddy Tinling in August last year - I made the day dress, not the tennis dress. You should look TT up on the net, he's an interesting man!

Christine Laennec said...

What a fabulous story. I believe it must be true!

Alessa said...

Aww, that almost brought tears to my eyes. You tell a fine story. :)
That was really good instinct snapping up that lot, especially the "office" dresses, so pretty!

Anonymous said...

delightful post!!

StephC said...

Beautiful. I love her story.

Melizza said...

:)

What a sweet story.

Linda C said...

Ah, those animal costumes certainly brought back memories. I sewed a lot for my daughters and myself but then the boys came on the scene. I did sew a few little summer overall outfits when the oldest was small but had stopped that by the time his brother came along. Sewed for the girls until college for the older and high school for the younger. For the boys, lots of wonderful animal costumes: lions, gorillas, dragons, and 2 small bears out of pale blue fake fur. Actually all the costumes were made from remnants of fake fur- all, except the dragon which was made of some sort of fake snake or lizard stuff (I had an elegant long dress I made for myself in the late or mid sixties) with stuffed triangles with brocade for the tail or stegosaurus points on the back. There may be still be a costume or two in the attic.

LindaC

Tracy - The Material Girl said...

More romantic than any Valentines card! You made me smile and have to hide my eyes for a moment at work!

Adele said...

Excellent post!! loved reading the story, and what groovy patterns you have scored!